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Sunday, 30 June 2013

Channel 4 - Walking Through History - the Dorset Coast

All day trip to York Theatre Royal for a full production of Shakespeare's Henry VI, parts 1, 2 & 3. Bravo to the theatre company, The Globe Touring Company.

This morning I have watched "Walking Through History" that was shown on Channel 4 last night.

Tony Robinson does a four day walk along the Dorset Coast, from Abbotsbury to Swanage. This coastal path is liberally sprinkled with WW2 coastal defences. He also visits Fort Nothe in Weymouth.

I really enjoyed the programme. This could be an alternative to my cancelled trip to the Vosges. If you can, I commend this programme to you to watch.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

October trip cancelled

This is not my year for trips.

First, Holts cancelled the trip in April to German 1918 Offensive battlefields. Yesterday, Battle Honours cancelled the trip in October to WW1 Vosges battlefields. Grrrrrrr.

I have managed to book a trip to Marrakesh in September for my partner and me, which I am looking forward to, but it's not the same.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Battle of Solferino, 24th June 1859

Emperor Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino by Meissonier
Today, 24th June is the anniversary of the Battle of Solferino. An allied force of French and Sardinian troops defeated the Austrians during the Second War of Italian Independence.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Jean Moulin Birthday

A famous photo, held by the Hulton Archive

Today is the anniversary of Resistance Leader Jean Moulin, born 20th June 1899, murdered by Nazis 8th July 1943.

Remembering James Gandolfini (1961 - 2013)

On the news this morning, James Gandolfini has died in Italy.

I have recently decided to rewatch all six series of "The Sopranos" and completed the first series. What amazing television, just as good, surprising and crisp as when I first watched it in 1999. I was sucked in and immersed, again.

I am deeply saddened to hear of James' passing.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Fortress Visit Report No.8 Heugh Battery, Hartlepool

A day out with the Military History Group of the University of the Third Age, York Branch.

Heugh Battery was built in 1860 as part of the programme of defensive works along the north-east coast of England and closed in 1956. It saw action in 1914 when the Imperial German Navy bombarded ports along the East coast. The battery exchanged fire with three German cruisers, "Moltke", "Seydlitz" and "Blucher".

The battery is being renovated by volunteers with the Heugh Gun Battery Trust and a very fine job they are doing. Everyone on our trip was very impressed with battery presentation and smartness, the quality of the restoration work and the accessibility to (almost) all areas. Of particular note were the volunteer tour guides who, despite protestation of ignorance, showed great knowledge and understanding of the battery and its personnel.

This is a really good site. If you have a spare morning and in the area, you should visit it.

Main entrance

On the wall just outside the Battery, the CP top left.

The parade ground, from the CP

A souvenir from Crimea, just outside the Battery

Friday, 14 June 2013

"The Guns of the North-East" by Joe Foster

Recently I wrote about my plans to visit more fortresses in Britain and my reading of "Fortress Britain" by Anthony Saunders. I came across this book by Joe Foster whilst looking for further reading, as the York University of the Third Age (U3A) Military History Group were planning a visit to Heugh Battery in Hartlepool.

The book covers the East coast of England from Bamborough to the Humber, the forts and batteries built and the raising of the volunteer, militia artillery units for the period 1850 - 1956 to man the forts, along with infantry and yeomanry. This was a separate strategy to that of Southern England known as the Palmerston Forts, although both strategies suffered from an initial burst of enthusiasm but then prolonged budget restrictions.

The book has five chapters:-

1.History, from establishment to disbandment.

2. Coast Artillery, the cannons installed.

3. Gunners, their recruitment, from Victorian period, through WW1  and WW2 and some personal accounts.

4. The Bombardment of Hartlepool, by ships of the German Imperial Navy in December 1914 and the exchanges with Heugh Battery.

5. Gazetteer.

This is a good book that sets the strategy of coastal defence in the UK in a local context. Also the technical aspects are very well explained, such as the difference between MLR (Muzzle Loading Rifled) and RML (Rifled Muzzle Loading). The gazetteer is going to be very useful for planning some outings, I am looking forward to it.

Next - in between walks, I must get back to some French History, I have a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte and two further Napoleonic period histories plus I have found of two books I have wanted to read for some time, Anthony Clayton's "France, Soldiers and Africa" and Lee Kennett's "The French Forces in America 1780 - 1783". Still waiting for the copy of Stephen Brumwell's biog of Wolfe from Amazon UK.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Monument to the Battle of Marston Moor

In this part of Yorkshire, it's hard to avoid history. Yesterday, my partner wanted to spend some time with her newly purchased horse at the stables in Tockwith, about fifteen miles from York. I took my bicycle so I could get some exercise and some sunshine.

Between Tockwith and Long Marston is the English Civil War battlefield of Marston Moor. In the spring of 1644, Parliamentary forces were besieging the City of York. Prince Rupert led a Royalist force into Yorkshire to try to lift the siege. On 2nd July 1644, Parliamentary and Coventanter forces (22,500 men) under Fairfax defeated the Royalist forces (17,000 men) commanded by Prince Rupert. Parliamentary army lost 300 men. The Royalists lost 4,000 men killed, 1,500 prisoners. A bloody day but a great one for the Parliamentary cause. Two weeks later, the Royalist garrison in York surrendered the city and the Royalists effectively gave up the North of England.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Battle of Magenta 4th June 1859

Today is the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Magenta during the Second War for Italian independence, between French, Sardinian and other allied forces opposing the Austrian army of occupation.

The war lasted about three months, but many historians believe this is the first major use of railways to transport troops and of rifled artillery.
This map is from, Magenta is centre-stage.

Napoleon III had crossed the Ticoni and outflanked the Austrians under General Gyulai.

 This is a painting of the Imperial Guard, under General Mellinet, seizing the bridge (Ponte Nuovo) over the canal, the Naviglio Grande and holding it for several hours until reinforcements arrived. The painting is by Charpentier and was painted in 1860. I believe it is now in the Musée d'Armée, Les Invalides.

At the end of the day, the French and allied troops had pushed the Austrians out of Magenta and gained a victory.
The Battle of Magenta by Induno, painting in Les Invalides

Marshall MacMohan was made Duke of Magenta, unknown photographer

Saturday, 1 June 2013

"Fortress Britain" by Andrew Saunders

Last year I made two very good, very interesting visits to Fort Nelson in Portsmouth. This has prompted me to reconsider my approach to fortification in Britain and to plan more visits to more sites. This is outside my usual remit of French military history but it does reflect an aspect of French foreign policy for five hundred years.

This book was listed in a few publications as being a good reference study, essential for anyone to understand British fortification policy. It was published in 1981 and not repeated, so I watched EBay and Amazon for a few weeks to find a reasonably priced copy and I was very lucky to find one on Amazon UK.

I learnt a lot from this book. Easy to read, it is about the strategic and political issues around the construction of forts in GB. It does not explain how an artillery fort is designed, the use of angles or enfilading fire. It does explain why there was a major building programme during the reign of Henry VIII, then only sporadic building until the 1860s when a number of ports were protected by "Palmerston's Follies", in response to a new strategic policy assessment, the bolt from the blue.

Following the Glorious Revolution and the growth of mercantilism, the industrial revolution and colonisation, Britain became a major naval power. This gave rise to the Blue Water defence policy. During the 18th and 19th centuries, defence policy was based on the strength of the Royal Navy, why should we spend millions of pounds on fortifications and expanding the professional Army when no-one could amass a fleet of sufficient strength to cross the English Channel without being intercepted by the Royal Navy.

After the Crimean War, when France and UK were allies, a new scare arose, the bolt from the blue. The French Navy stole a march on the Royal Navy by developing steam powered vessels and armour plating. So, using the new railways and conscription, the French could amass an army on the Channel coast in a week and ship 100,000 men into Southern England using those armour-plated, steam-driven vessels irrespective of the weather. Could a Royal Navy fleet assemble in time and with sufficient strength to stop them?

Events on mainland Europe were to dispel this scare. Emperor Napoleon III and his army were very decisively beaten during the Franco-Prussian War, so the fort building programme was curtailed and not completed, I learnt on my visits to Fort Nelson that the fort's full compliment of artillery was never delivered.

We have been left with a number of military sites and architecture that should be visited. Henry's forts along the South coast of England, Fort George in Scotland, Hurst Castle, the forts around Portsmouth, the Isles of Wight, Jersey and Guernsey. The quantity is not European in scale, but the quality is first class. These, together with visits to Vauban, de Riviere and CORF designed forts, should keep me active for years.

First up - a visit next week to Heaugh Battery in South Shields with my local U3A Military History group, I'm really looking forward to it.